Last week I was asked to sub at the last minute for an orchestra concert, and happily my schedule allowed me to say "yes." So what would be on this concert? Among other things: "Don Juan" by Richard Strauss.
Wait, what? Do people actually play this piece for anything other than auditions?
Yes, this is perhaps the most infamous audition piece for violin; something one must learn when trying out for just about any orchestra.
It's full of tricky, fast playing that goes all over the fingerboard. It has to sound crisp, clear, accurate and brilliant, and then there are some lyrical bits sandwiched right into all the madness.
To be fair, I've played the piece a number of times in a concert (and playing the second violin part makes matters a lot easier as well.) But I've practiced and played it far, far more times for auditions over the years. For a long time, there, I knew the first page of the first violin part inside and out, without ever having played it with an orchestra, in a concert.
The excerpt(s) required so much practice, so much obsessive nit-picking, entire coaching sessions just on the excerpt -- I came to view it as a nemesis: a little piece of cruelty blocking the entrance door to any orchestra.
It's easy to forget that this piece is actually one heck of a fun ride, if you can change your mindset. It's Romanticism in its most exuberant, over-the-top form, a roller coaster that just keeps going up and up, around and around, the balloon inflating and inflating until it pops, and it doesn't take too long for our hero's summary demise. Very amusing melodrama, with a lot of juicy string playing.
So please share your thoughts on Don Juan. Love it or hate it? Or maybe love-hate it like I do? And please let us know, have you played it in concert, or just for auditions, or maybe not at all? (And if you've played both violin 1 and 2, just vote violin 1.)
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